How to Overcome the Little Black Submarines

Morning little buddies…

There I was.

Standing and staring at 600 square feet of carpeting, pad, and tackstrips that needed to be pulled up. This space usually filled me with content and joy over the past 15 years. Reminiscing of kissing your mother for the first time. Memories of staying up way too late with John to play Guitar Hero for “one more song.” Imagining the white walls brought to life with colors, photos, and your mother’s heart. Despite the fondness of these memories, I stood paralyzed by analysis. All I heard was the voice.

“Do it right the first time.”

A simple phrase that was delivered to encourage me to do things the right way. A message all kids should hear.

But all I heard was, “don’t fuck this up.”

It’s interesting how even some of the simplest messages can be heard in a different manner than they are sent. And how these incorrectly received messages can then be carried with us through our entire lifetime. And from there, the little black submarines pop up out of nowhere armed and ready to go.

Pick you up, let you down

When I wanna go

To a place I can hide

You know me, I had plans

But they just disappeared

To the back of my mind.

~Lyrics from The Black Keys

At similar moments along my journey, I would hear that voice. Then the anxiety and stress of the submarines would come knocking. Bringing with them the fear of possibly screwing things up. For me, it was flight over fight every time. I would take off not knowing what to do with the roller coaster that was inside of me. Wouldn’t even give it a try. Slithering back was much better than the possibility of screwing up.

But not this time.

This time I would get over the worry hill. I was going to try. Plybar and hammer in hand.

I would stay in the arena.

The biggest obstacle was not going to be me today. It was going to be the tackstrips, carpet, and pad-and I was going to complete the task. No matter how long it took me or how cut up my hands ended up being.

Yes, of all projects, tearing up carpeting may not seem like that big of a deal. But use the picture and mental model to help you create yours. Your anxiousness will have its own set of cues. You will have to learn them as you get older. But here are three thoughts to helping you overcome the “little black submarines.”

1. Find buddies who don’t feel the risk that you do in the specific instance. Make sure they hold you accountable. When it comes to these tasks that make you uncomfortable, strength in numbers will be your foundation. For example, your mother has no fear when it comes to these household tasks. She put up a backsplash in no time as I worried and overthought the first cut. Or stick close to a friend who takes calculated risks in areas that make you uncomfortable. Their confidence will then hopefully translate over to you. And don’t be afraid to ask these people questions. More knowledge will be your tool to get over the hump.

2. Learn the languages of those around you-and make sure you help others learn your personal language as well. And what I mean by “language” is not necessarily English or Spanish or Mandarin. It can be either verbal or nonverbal. For example, when I have certain specific responses, Mommy knows my sensory bucket may be almost empty. But I had to explain that to her. I wasn’t being snippy or mean, it was my way of sending a message. Learning how to send and receive these messages will take time and work, but it will be worth it. The message the voice was telling me was to take my time and do the job the right way. But I heard it differently. I always wish I would have asked or learned a way to respond showing my anxiousness so that the voice could understand. Now I know better, and I hope you learn this tool to help you with others as well.

3. Finally, a great book I read is called Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn. Just because you might not win doesn’t mean you automatically lose. Transfer your thought of losing to the process of learning-and this may also relieve some of the anxiousness and stress. Because isn’t the whole point of this journey on Earth to learn as much as possible? Don’t be paralyzed by winning or losing, be free to learn.

With every inch of tackstrips that was pulled up, a bigger smile came across my face. A feeling of content washed through my heart and mind. The submarines and the voice were thwarted on this day. I was encompassed by more cheerful thoughts. Inflatable furniture, lunches with your great grandmother, and maybe one day, you moving in here.

And eventually, the job was completed. I have the picture of a bucket to remind me that I can do it. I stayed in the arena. And you can too.

And if you need the carpeting pulled up or any other job done, I will be there to lend a hand.

Be Bold and Be Brave,


P.S. When you were little, you enjoyed What Do You Do With a Problem as well as Jabari Jumps when we were stuck on a worry hill!

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